“Will you meet with him?” an old buddy from my former life as a motion designer asked over the phone.
“We don’t have to hold hands or kiss afterwards do we?” I replied back sarcastically. I felt like he was trying to set me up on a date. I wonder if he knows I’m married (to a woman) with kids.
“He just wants to talk bow hunting. He’s new to it and the lack of success has him frustrated. I’ve seen your pics, you’ve caught stuff. He just wants a little help,” came his reply.
Being that my old friend was in the advertising industry, you’d think he knew what editing and “selective” visuals were. My kill to days in the field ratio was outright embarrassing. Not every model you see on Instagram looks like that when they wake up you know… selective freaking editing.
“Yea sure,” came my reluctant reply. Being he was a friend and having a soft spot for those in the struggle, I agreed to meet up.
I sat at the a local brewery sipping the latest hops infused concoction. Another mediocre beer in the sea of the mediocre brewery craze. Just add more hops than the next guy and you deserve a gold medal these days.
“Fred?” I heard over my shoulder.
I turned on my stool to what I took to be a skinny-jeaned lumberjack straight out of the Pacific Northwest. All the trimmings of one at least. My eyes instinctively go to his hands. Those hands never held a tool in their life. Great.
I spent a short stint in Brooklyn (Williamsburg to make matters worse) some years back for work. What I learned was to be a woodsman you need to drink PBR, wear flannel, carry a hatchet on your hip and to NOT spend a single moment in the dirty, scary, disgusting woods. Deep in the heart of the city is where lumberjacks are born.
“Heeeeyy,” came my drawn out response. I knew I was in for it.
After five minutes of the typical pleasantries, I felt the need to get on with it.
“So backcountry bowhunting? How’d you do last year?” I asked. I wanted to see what I was working with.
The floodgates opened. If felt half psychiatrist, half high school adviser.
After the typical excuses as to why he didn’t see anything came the pleas as to how to make the hunt more comfortable and enjoyable. Not successful mind you, but more comfortable. Interesting.
I had three choices.
- Lie to him and tell him it gets better.
- Get blackout drunk and hope through my inebriation and therefor slurring of words he would slink away from the conversation and head back to his logging camp.
- Bluntly tell him the truth.
I pushed my beer away and opted for a combination of one and two.
A summarization was in order to make sure I got it right.
“OK. So you don’t like being cold or dirty? You’re terrified of bears? You don’t particularly like hiking? You rank sleeping in as high on your priority list?” I asked. “Why do you want to hunt again?”
I tried but failed miserably to keep the amusement out of my voice.
“Everybody says it’s the healthiest, cleanest meat out there,” came his reply.
Oh wow. A lumberjack and a Crossfitter.
“And working out is the best way to stay thin, but liposuction is always an option.” I muttered under my breath.
“Huh?” came his response, leaning in as he obviously didn’t catch what I was saying.
“Nothing,” I quickly tried to recover.
I went on to tell him that all the things he hates about backcountry hunting is the precise thing that us backcountry hunters love about it. We embrace the suck.
“So is it hopeless?” He asked. “Should I just give up on it?”
“That’s up to you my friend. It depends what you want out of it. Are you using it for a growing experience? Essentially are you using it to find something out about yourself and better yourself as a human or do you just want the clean meat and the ability to say you’re a backcountry hunter?” I responded honestly. “Do you want to be uncomfortable for the sake of making the your everyday existence more comfortable?”
Now I know this was an extreme case. But it did give me the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what we’re doing out there. Acquiring meat, right? Horseshit. There are WAY easier ways of getting clean, healthy meat. For one, spend less time hunting and more working your job in order to be able to afford Whole Foods obscene prices for organic, grass fed animals.
Those of us in it know it’s so much more than that.
We make the situation harder than it needs to be in order to test our mettle. We do un-ordinary things to make the ordinary more bearable.
That might be the why, but how about the how?
There are many things that contribute to the success of a hunt. Let’s throw luck out the window, as it is something that we can’t plan for and can’t work at to acquire more of it (spare me your “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” speech in the comments section. I get it. I use other people’s quotes all the time to feel clever as well).
I won’t beat training into the ground. There are more marathon hunters in the backcountry then there are hunter hunters in the backcountry these days. Believe me I know, that’s typically the first thing they are quick to tell me.
So, what’s left? Hunting skill? Sure, but before we can get to that we need to stay in more than a day to acquire it. Let’s talk about how to do that.
How to Stay in the Backcountry
Wow that title sounds stupid. I might as well have named it “How to Breath and the Advantages of Doing So”.
Sounds simple, however I would bet it is the single biggest factor as to why people aren’t successful in the deep. I wrote an article a few years back about it that still applies today → Solo Backcountry Hunter
Instead of regurgitating previous information, I’ll instead try to be useful and talk about one of the specifics in there and what I have spent a lengthy amount of time with this introduction to get at.
Here’s the summary in one sentence: You need to be ok with being uncomfortable to be ok with being a backcountry hunter.
At first being ok with it will work. But to eventually embrace and really enjoy it, you need to be more than ok with it, you need to look forward to it.
Humans love comfort. Look back since the beginning of time. Besides just trying to survive in a world that was trying to kill us, what were we doing? Trying to get comfortable. We made fire to stay warm. We made weapons to make acquiring food easier. We created modern houses with heat, running water and soft beds to get comfortable. Nine to five jobs? To comfort us into thinking our futures are secure. Watching television? To distract us long enough with other people’s problems so we don’t have to think and fix our own. I can go on like this forever, but I won’t. Let’s just say that I firmly believe that most conveniences we have created is to allow us to be more comfortable.
When we volunteer to hike miles into the mountains and give up all the comforts that the modern day gives us (Well most, we still use tents, legit clothing and instant coffee. Come on, I’m not a total sadist.) we make a conscious decision to be uncomfortable. It’s part of the appeal. We give up the conveniences of the world as we know it for the TEMPORARY discomfort of a simpler, more primal existence.
And that big bold word in the previous sentence is the key to it all. The key to the art of being uncomfortable. The key to staying in the backcountry and the key to the city of success.
Much like life, it’s all temporary. Being cold, wet, sleep deprived, scared of critters, achy, lonely. Whatever is making you uncomfortable while in the backcountry is only temporary. Take comfort in that.
What isn’t temporary is giving up and the psychological effects it will have on you. That I promise sticks with you and defines you as a human.
Leverage this knowledge. Repeat “it’s only temporary” while you’re waiting out that mountain shaking lightning storm, the deep loneliness that you feel will last forever or the fear of the unknown.
Leverage that and walk out of the woods on that predetermined date with the knowledge that you’ve lived with discomfort and you could do it again. Hell, maybe next time even welcome it.
“I want to learn to be ok with being uncomfortable.” Came the unexpected reply. For a minute I almost forgot someone was sitting next to me.
Hazily I came back to it.
“Well you’re starting off on the right foot”, I exclaimed, “those tight jeans seem to be the perfect training tool.”
OK. Numbers 1 and 3 were covered, I gave him a little bit of truth as well as being blunt. Maybe I added a little of #2 in there as well for my own sanity.
// Fred Bohm